Category Archives: Authors

The Dean Jobb Interview

Author Dean Jobb has recently released a new Nova Scotia true crime collection: Madness, Mayhem and Murder through Pottersfield Press. The collection features a variety of true crimes stories from Nova Scotia’s past.

In an email, he spoke with Katie Ingram about this new book and his interest in the province’s criminal past.

You had previously written about Nova Scotia’s true crime, in this book’s predecessor, Daring, Devious & Deadly, published in 2020, and years ago in Bluenose Justice and Crime Wave. What makes Nova Scotia true crime such an interesting topic for you?

I studied Atlantic Canada’s history in university and when I started out as a journalist. I covered the courts for the Halifax Daily News and the Chronicle Herald. As I reported on current cases, I began researching and writing about important or forgotten crimes and trials from Nova Scotia’s past. So, my love of history dovetailed with my growing interest in the law and the justice system.

2. As mentioned above, you’ve covered this area extensively; how did you choose what to include in this most recent book?

Nova Scotia has a rich history of crime and justice, so I had plenty of stories to choose from. To make the cut, each story had to be a great read and say something about what life was like at that time. I also aimed to include stories from around the province — from Truro, Antigonish, Lunenburg, Windsor, Liverpool and Cape Breton, as well as Halifax.

3. How relevant is historical true crime today?

True crime stories offer a window on the past. They deal with major events and expose how our ancestors lived, what they believed in, how police investigations and forensic science have evolved, and how the courts have grappled to ensure that justice is done. The cases I’ve collected are filled with dramatic events, memorable characters, and surprising twists and turns. And they’re intriguing stories with a lot to say about how society and the law have changed over time. 

4. If not stated above, what would you like your readers to take away from the collection?

I hope these compelling stories will entertain as well as inform. Each one offers a mini-history of its time and place. Readers will learn a lot about the past and have a better understanding of how society, the law and the courts have changed, and how justice could be as elusive in the past as it can be today.

5. Do you have a favourite story in this collection? If so, which one and why?

It has to be the foiled plot to assassinate Prince George of Wales in Halifax in 1883. The future King George V was a young sailor on board a Royal Navy warship anchored in the harbour when two Irish-Americans were arrested for possessing a large cache of dynamite. Fenians, American-based terrorists fighting to free Ireland from British rule, had denoted bombs in London and other English cities, and there’s clear evidence the men arrested in Halifax had planned to blow up the prince’s ship as part of the Fenians’ “dynamite campaign.” Had they succeeded, and killed the heir to the throne, their act of terror would have changed the course of history. 

6. You included an overarching look at capital punishment in the form of hanging in Chapter 13. Why did you choose, in this chapter, to focus more on the history of the event instead of a specific person or story?

There are calls, from time to time, to reinstate capital punishment for murder in Canada. A look back at the history of hangings in Nova Scotia offers a reminder of the cruelty of executions and the often-arbitrary decisions that were made when condemned prisoners pleaded for clemency. And (it’s) a reminder, as well, that capital punishment did little to deter murderers. 

7. For each story, they have several credits, including other books and archival sources. How difficult was it to find enough information to ensure a well-rounded tale?

A surprising amount of information has survived. Newspapers are the most important source for the details of old crimes and in the nineteenth century, papers often published transcripts of major trials. The Nova Scotia Archives has files or records of some of the cases recreated in the book, and the Supreme Court published its rulings in several cases that involved important legal issues. I visited local museums and courthouses, to find out more about cases and the history of the community. And I gathered any previous accounts of the cases and scoured memoirs, published diaries, and history books for insights into people, events, and what life was like at the time.


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Katie Ingram
Some Rights Reserved  

The Sydney Warner Brooman Interview

Sydney Warner Brooman (they/them) was raised in Grimsby, Ontario. They attended Western University in London, Ontario, and currently live in Toronto. The Pump is their debut short fiction collection. Their story “The Bottom” was shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s 2020 Open Season Awards, and they have recent work in American Chordata, Thorn Literary Magazine, and other literary journals.


Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

I graduated from Western University in London, ON with an Honours BA in English Literature & Creative Writing in 2018, which is where I actually started The Pump. The book began as a thesis project under the supervision of poet Tom Cull, and I wrote most of it before I graduated. I’ve worked a few odd jobs, the weirdest being a pioneer village actor and tour guide. That job makes an appearance in The Pump.

MR: Tell us about some of the books, authors, poets or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

I probably wouldn’t be a writer if I hadn’t read Gordon Korman and Roald Dahl when I was young. Dahl’s Danny The Champion of The World is a book I return to often. I had a lot of teachers in public school and university who certainly encouraged me on my writing journey, but I honestly can’t remember a specific moment in which I ‘decided’ that I would be a writer. It always just felt like something that had to happen.

MR: Tell us a little about your debut short story collection, The Pump. How long has it been in the making? Had you considered making it a novel first?

The Pump is a book of heavily interconnected short stories that follow the townspeople of a Southern Ontario small town with an apathetic municipal government, a tainted water supply, and an environment that has turned against the townspeople after being mistreated for so long. The book is about queerness and love and living below the poverty line and attempts to explore how we separate where we grew up from who we are. It was never going to be a novel—I knew I wanted the book to be made up of stories from the outset.

MR: In her review of The Pump for TMR, Anuja Varghese observed: “Through the beavers, we get both a deeply unsettling bit of magical realism and also an interesting disruption of the beaver as a patriotic Canadian symbol. In Brooman’s stories, the very notion of “home” is turned on its head, and what is exposed in the process is unremorseful violence and all-consuming rot.”  Does that sound like what you were trying to convey?

The beavers are definitely more symbolic than a literal pull from my upbringing. I wanted something that honoured the Can lit tradition while also turning it on its head—a part of nature that is typically non-violent, especially towards humans. We humans intact so much violence on each other and on the land we live on, so I wanted to give the land some of its power back.

MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?

All of Heather O’Neill’s books are favourites of mine, particularly her most recent The Lonely Hearts Hotel. That book teaches me how to be a writer in a new way each time I read it.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

Heather O’Neill 100%. But it could never be a written biography—it would be like, some kind of experimental stage show with film and live art and audience participation and everyone could bring their pet cat to the venue. Her daughter Arizona O’Neill is one of the best short filmmakers I’ve seen in a long time, so she would probably be the best person to make it. I could just attend and cry and clap and be president of the fan club. Arizona’s at the top of my list of other artists/creatives I’d like to work with someday. 

MR: Tell us about your writing space. (Do you always write in the same area? Do you use a laptop or a desktop computer, etc)

I do most of my writing on my phone actually! My process is that I draft dialogue and scene structure on my phone, with little notes like “add description of house here”, and then I send it to myself and do all the descriptions and editing on my laptop afterwards. All my best words are written in my notes app on my phone though.

MR: Amazing! Covid question: how have you been coping with the pandemic? What changes (if any) has it made in your life?

The pandemic has made me a real homebody honestly. I always used to write at libraries or coffee shops—always out of the house. Now I’m much more comfortable creating things at home, and doing things like cooking and cleaning and just relaxing in my space. Pre-Covid, my house was kind of just that place I slept at. Now, it’s a sacred space.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing (or reading)?

Life is really busy right now. I’m usually working my day job, or running errands, or helping at church. My partner and I love going for these really long walks around Toronto and finding new places to have coffee and just exploring until our feet hurt and we’re lost. I try to get outside as often as I can so that working from home doesn’t make me too restless and anxious. All of these little everyday things make up a life at the end of the day.

Thanks, Sydney!


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Jane Doucet Interview

Nova Scotian author Jane Doucet is the author of two books, The Pregnant Pause and her latest, Fishnets & Fantasies which will be released this summer (July 2021) by Vagrant Press, an imprint of Nimbus Publishing.

Miramichi Reader: Jane, I’ll admit I know very little about you other than you have written two books and that you got married in a library (more about that later). So, Jane, please tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.

Jane Doucet: I was born and raised in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. After graduating from high school in 1986, I did a two-year dance performance studies diploma program at Toronto’s George Brown College, then spent a term at the Washington School of Ballet in D.C. I set aside my dream of becoming a professional dancer to earn a journalism degree from the University of King’s College in 1993. In my fourth year, I did a month-long internship at FLARE magazine. When I graduated, I took a six-month maternity-leave-replacement contract as an assistant to the editor at FLARE. After that, I worked as a copy editor at Chatelaine and a researcher-reporter at Maclean’s. In 1999, I quit Maclean’s to freelance full-time in Toronto, and in 2000, I moved back to Halifax. I’ve been here working as a self-employed magazine and communications writer and editor ever since.

MR: It’s good to have you back here in the Maritimes. Now tell us about some of the books or authors that may have influenced you to become a writer.

JD: Two of my favourite Canadian authors are the late, great Carol Shields and Cape Breton’s Lesley Crewe. Both of them write about relatable, ordinary moments in life with incredible insight and empathy, and in Lesley’s case, humour. Also, strong yet flawed women tend to be their protagonists, which I love. I write the type of books I like to read, so in that respect, I suppose they have been influences.

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

JD: I can’t name just one! Some of the books I’ve reread are Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Crow by Amy Spurway and A Celibate Season by Carol Shields. Books that really moved me. And the funnier the better, even if it’s gallows humour.

“I didn’t plan to write another novel, but shortly after launching The Pregnant Pause, I had an idea for a funny TV series about a married couple in their late 50s who open a sex shop in Lunenburg, N.S that sell toys like a silicone penis ring and dildos. That’s how Fishnets & Fantasies came to be.”

jane doucet

MR: Good stuff! Let’s talk about your novels, 2017’s The Pregnant Pause and the forthcoming Fishnets & Fantasies. Can you tell us a little about them?

JD: It’s funny because I had no interest in writing a novel. I never dabbled in creative fiction. I was happy with my journalism career and satisfied with reading other people’s novels. Then when I was in my mid-30s, I looked for a light-hearted novel about motherhood indecision that didn’t end with “And she had a baby and lived happily ever after.” I couldn’t find one, so I decided to try writing it myself. I worked on manuscript revisions with a literary agent in London, England, for three months, but (spoiler alert!) she decided that my protagonist should have a baby after all. I fired her, and many years later I decided to self-publish. Writing and publishing a novel was extremely hard work. I didn’t plan to write another novel, but shortly after launching The Pregnant Pause, I had an idea for a funny TV series about a married couple in their late 50s who open a sex shop in Lunenburg, N.S. I’m not a screenwriter, so I decided to write a novel and try to sell it to a network. That’s how Fishnets & Fantasies came to be.

MR: Now, your first book was self-published, but Fishnets & Fantasies got picked up by Nimbus Publishing. Would you recommend self-publishing to first-time authors and if so, what pitfalls should people be aware of?

JD: I’m thrilled that Vagrant Press, Nimbus Publishing’s fiction imprint, is launching Fishnets & Fantasies in July. Self-publishing was an incredible learning experience. I hired a professional team-editor, designer, proofreader, publicist-because I wanted a professional product. My husband was my tech-support person because I’m too impatient to figure out how to upload digital files. I was very proud when The Pregnant Pause was shortlisted for a 2018 Whistler Independent Book Award. I highly recommend self-publishing if you can afford to hire a talented team. It’s necessary if you want a good-quality book-one with a strong cover and that isn’t riddled with typos and grammatical mistakes. It has to stand up to traditionally published books on bookstore shelves.

MR: Good advice. What are you working on now?

JD: I’m halfway done with the first draft of the manuscript for my third novel, which will combine characters and storylines from my first two books. I’m bringing back Rose Ainsworth, the protagonist from The Pregnant Pause, 13 years later at age 50, and she’s moving to Lunenburg to take over the sex shop in Fishnets & Fantasies. It’s great fun returning to these characters a decade or more later and introducing them to each other. Recently I got an idea for a fourth novel-a murder mystery set in Nova Scotia, which is completely out of my comfort zone-so I’m afraid there will be no rest for me!

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

JD: I read for pleasure every night. Books-mostly fiction, but some non-fiction, too-and magazines. Also, my husband and I love going to local cafés and travelling around the region.

MR: Finally, tell us about getting married in the Halifax Central Library! How did that come about as a location for your nuptials?

JD: My husband and I attended high school together, then we lost contact for more than 20 years until we bumped into each other at a Halifax bank in 2013. We had our first date at Pavia on the fifth floor of Central on Dec. 14, 2014, the day after it opened. In June of 2017, I held the launch for The Pregnant Pause in Room 301 at Central. We’re both avid readers and regularly borrow library books from Central, which is a 30-minute walk or a short drive from our house. When we decided to get married, we didn’t even consider another location. On Dec. 14, 2019, we had a small ceremony of six people (including us) in Central’s RBC Learning Centre.

MR: Thanks, Jane!

JD: Thanks for inviting me to chat!

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Hannah D. State Interview

Hannah D. State is a Canadian author. Born in London, Ontario, she graduated from McGill University with a BA and earned her MPL from Queen’s University. Hannah enjoys going on nature walks and pondering the mysteries of the universe. She currently resides in New Brunswick. Journey to the Hopewell Star is Hannah’s first novel and while it was written with a young reader audience in mind, I found it engrossing enough to keep my interest until the end, desiring to read more of Samantha’s adventures. With this in mind, I wanted to learn more about the author and find out if she plans on continuing the series. (Spoiler alert: she does!)

Miramichi Reader: Hannah, please tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.

I was born and raised in London, Ontario along with my younger sister. My father was a university professor of political science and later worked in health research and policy. My mother was a writer.

My parents were very loving and supportive and gave me a lot of freedom and independence. They encouraged my creative endeavours. My father taught me to have concern for the community and the importance of social justice. We volunteered a lot for different community organizations. My mother read to me at a young age and inspired my love of reading and writing.

I studied at McGill University and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree. Between my university studies, I held different jobs: a research assistant for Western University in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics classifying maps for use in policy-making; a student planner for the City of London, Ontario; and a census enumerator for Statistics Canada. The most difficult job was being a telemarketer, which required cold calling to sell ink cartridges. I wasn’t passionate about the work, and my personality isn’t suited to being a salesperson.

After I got my BA, I continued my schooling and completed my master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s University. When I graduated, it was around the time of the recession, so jobs were few and far between. There seemed to be a lot of competition for private sector planning jobs, and it was difficult to get one. Luckily, and in a twist of fate, I was recruited by the federal government and started working at Health Canada (in a real property role) but was eventually bridged into a permanent position. I’ve been working for the feds ever since and have relocated to different places across Canada, taking on positions in various departments. My husband has been so amazingly supportive, following me to different cities and switching jobs along the way, which isn’t easy. Looking back at my career path and the opportunities I had, I’m glad I didn’t get that planning job. Sometimes when you don’t get something you want, it can be a blessing in disguise!

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

My mom was a huge influence. She sparked my love of reading and writing at a young age. As a writer, she would sometimes give creative writing lessons at my high school. She was always supportive and encouraging. I remember writing as a child and wanting to do what she did. She was a guiding light in so many ways. As a young adult, I also looked up to my mom’s writing friends, many of whom took the time to answer several of my writing-related questions when I was first starting out. In high school, there were a couple of English teachers whom I really admired too. I later took a novel writing course at the University of New Brunswick and was inspired by the professor, who had achieved success as an independent science fiction author. He is an excellent mentor.

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

Well, I don’t really have just one favourite book—there are so many! Each one is unique in its own way, and could be evaluated and considered separately on its own merits. That’s like asking which child is my favourite! I can’t choose. Each has its own distinct personality and style, and I love them equally. Some of the authors whom I admire are (in no particular order): Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Clifford Simak, Lois Lowry, C.S. Lewis, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins, Lucy Maud Montgomery, John Green, and Ray Bradbury, just to name a few. There are so many books on my reading list, and it’s growing exponentially. I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, The Golden Compass, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

MR: Let’s talk about your first novel, Journey to the Hopewell Star. Did you start out to write a YA novel, or did the story take you in that direction?

It started out as a short story. After sharing it with a couple of my close relatives and my husband, they all encouraged me to develop it further, and so it grew. After a while, I told myself it was going to be a novella. They’re relatively short and snappy. I will end it there. The end. But I soon realized the story had too many characters, and the plotline was evolving, rapidly spinning out of control in different directions, and so I had to buckle down and tackle it, even if it meant pushing myself further than I’d initially anticipated. But the lesson there is that challenges help us grow, and I’m especially grateful that my initial readers found promise in my writing and supported me throughout its development.

“It started out as a short story. After sharing it with a couple of my close relatives and my husband, they all encouraged me to develop it further, and so it grew.”

Hannah D. State

MR: One thing I noticed about your characters is that they range from the quiet Kobe to Simon, who is more outgoing. They are also ‘race-neutral’ if I can use that term. There is a noticeable lack of descriptors when it comes to Earthlings vs. Krygians. Can you tell us about the development of your characters?

The characters were formulated based on my imagination. Looking back, I think my female characters—like Sam and Onnisa—have a lot of qualities that reflect the strong women in my life and the women whom I admire. I wanted to bring diversity to my characters because, in my opinion, it makes the story more interesting when you have a group of characters with different backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, or differences of opinion, sometimes clashing and sometimes agreeing, but nevertheless helping to drive the plot forward. For the otherworldly characters, I was interested in questions such as how would they communicate, what would be their planetary laws and customs, what would they value, and how could we learn from them?

In a workplace setting, people often talk about building effective teams. In order to solve problems, it’s important to have people from diverse backgrounds with different viewpoints and perspectives, because they all have something unique to offer to the team. Simon is extroverted, but Kobe, by nature, is more introverted. And yet, they complement each other well. In some ways, Kobe reminds me of myself because I’m hesitant to jump into conversations and prefer listening instead. Sometimes people view this as a weakness, but it’s not. Susan Cain wrote a book about the power and virtue of introverts (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking). It’s important for people not to judge others just by what’s on the surface. I know other people who seem shy but who have so much to offer.

In terms of the visual descriptors, I try to make it less relevant for the human characters’ development. I believe people should be valued for their perspectives, personal values, and actions, rather than their looks. It also helps—especially for readers who might envision a character a certain way—if the character resonates with him or her. Having too much description might risk taking away from their experience of that character, if that makes sense. Although a little description can be helpful, I think it’s important to leave some mystery there and allow the readers to choose how they would imagine the visual details of some of the characters.

MR: What has been the response to the book?

The response to the book has been wonderful, and the reviews have been so positive. I’m grateful and happy with the feedback.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?

If I had to write a biography of someone, it would have to be someone who had a really good story to tell. Someone who faced numerous challenges, not only in his or her professional life but in his or her personal life, too. Someone who changed the world in a positive way and trailblazed a bright path for others to follow. A person who fought for what was right, despite the relentless pushback and tribulations along the way, and who desperately pursued justice, not merely to help themselves, but to help generations that would follow. I deeply admire Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was resilient, able and willing to defy authority, a steadfast advocate for gender equality, and a talented leader who inspired so many with her words and actions.

MR: What are you working on now?

I’m working on a sequel, but I’m also working on keeping healthy during the pandemic. I telework full-time from home now, so I need to structure my days accordingly to be efficient, but also to ensure I’m still eating healthy, stretching, and getting enough exercise. I’m also working on improving my culinary skills.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I love watching movies and TV shows! My current pop culture obsessions include Star Wars, Stranger Things, and Harry Potter. My husband and I love going on nature hikes. There are several gorgeous trails nearby. It’s wonderful living so close to a beautiful river and being able to take day trips to the ocean, too.

MR: Finally, tell us a fun fact about yourself!

I love inviting birds to eat out of my hands. I also have a passion for zip-lining.

MR: Thanks for this, Hannah!

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Kathleen Peacock Interview

Back in 2016, when The Miramichi Reader was barely a year old, I interviewed Kathleen Peacock who was then working as a publicist for New Brunswick’s Goose Lane Editions. It was through her that I would request review copies and book cover images, etc. Fast-forward to 2020 and Kathleen, who is no longer a publicist, has just released a new book You Were Never Here, from HarperTeen. I wanted to catch up with Kathleen to see what has transpired in the four years since we last talked.

Thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed for TMR once again. You are the first person to have that dubious distinction!

Thank you for having me back! I’ve always appreciated how passionate you are about literature and how much you do for the New Brunswick lit scene!

Thank you! Let’s pick up on your life since leaving Goose Lane Editions.

After leaving GLE, I decided to go back to school. I’m currently in my final year of a degree in English literature with a minor in psychology.

When I heard through the social media grapevine that you were working on a new book, I was very interested, particularly since you are an NB author, and have now worked from both sides of the publishing game. Did working as a publicist help you in any way? Do have any tips to share for budding authors out there?

To be honest, I’m not sure working in publishing was much of a help when it came to writing You Were Never Here, my new novel, or getting it published. I’d already had three novels published before working at GLE and YWNH is with the same publisher (albeit with a different imprint and editor).

I do feel that working at GLE gave me more insight into the Canadian publishing industry and the Canadian literature scene—particularly when it comes to smaller and independent presses. I quite appreciate having that insight. I do think working in publishing can help one make valuable connections, but I want to stress that it is perfectly possible to get published without knowing people in the industry—particularly as there seems to be this prevalent idea out there that you have to know someone already to break in. I didn’t have industry connections outside of friendships forged with other hopeful writers when I signed with my agent. I received an offer of representation based on an unsolicited query letter. The best advice I have is to hone your craft and your project, figure out what type of publishing fits your goals (be it self-publishing, trying to get an agent, or going with a smaller press), and then doing your research.

 Can you please tell us a little about your book You Were Never Here?

Sure! You Were Never Here is the story of seventeen-year-old Cat Montgomery. After a mysterious incident back home in New York, Cat is exiled to New Brunswick, Canada to spend the summer with her aunt in their foreboding ancestral home in the town of Montgomery Falls. Once there, Cat discovers that her childhood best friend is missing and sets out to figure out what happened to him while someone—or something—preys on other people in town.

Was there any certain event or occurrence that sparked the idea for the book?

 I’ve been wanting to write a book set in New Brunswick for a while. You Were Never Here actually began life as a few different projects. I’d been working on a project that dealt with a creepy abandoned island (inspired by Partridge Island near Saint John) and a project about a group of teens who were obsessed with horror movies. Somehow, those two things seemed to combine to form the basis of You Were Never Here. As I got further into the project, I started feeling like I was writing some strange love letter to all those New Brunswick summers I spent reading Stephen King books as a teen.

Finally, tell us an interesting fact about yourself!

I’m actually ridiculously boring, so coming up with interesting facts is difficult. I have never seen the Godfather.

Unbelievable! Thanks, Kathleen, and all the best for your new book and your educational pursuits.


A little about Kathleen: Kathleen Peacock spent most of her teen years writing short stories–all of which contained much angst and none of which survived high school. After working as a graphic designer, unofficial technical writer, and publicist, she returned to school to pursue an undergraduate degree. She lives in New Brunswick–just a few hours from the border with Maine–and is also the author of You Were Never Here (October 20, 2020, from HarperTeen) and the Hemlock trilogy.

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Confessions of A Prize-Winning Poet

When my first book came out, I was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as “an up and coming young Canadian poet to watch out for” simply by having the good luck to land on a few awards lists. My book Bonfires, published by Nightwood Editions, was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award and won the CAA poetry award in 2004.

This was a strange time for me because my apprenticeship compared to many of my poetry friends was long and tumultuous. Only a few years before, I had written a failed poetry collection for my Masters Thesis in Creative Writing at Concordia, and almost gave up writing altogether at the age of twenty-six.

When I returned to writing and rewrote the lion’s share of that first poetry collection eighteen months later, it still sat on slush-piles across the country until Silas White at Nightwood Editions decided he would make a project of me. Silas invited me to Toronto and told me unequivocally that my poetry was still not very good but showed promise.

Sometimes that is all you need to hear and I believed him. I began writing harder and more deeply than ever before. My aesthetics became more refined and I met many people including Paul Vermeersch, Carleton Wilson, and Autumn Getty who would shape how I looked at poetry.

“The problem with winning an award so young is you begin to believe it has something to do with you, and it does not.”

Flash-forward a few years later, and my book Bonfires was published. It was very much a collaborative affair with my editors. Over-night, it felt like my life changed immediately. Bonfires became a best-seller and an award-winner. I was suddenly invited to many literary evenings as a special guest, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Douglas Coupland and Stuart McLean, Michael Winter and Russell Smith. In a word, I had arrived.

The problem with winning an award so young is you begin to believe it has something to do with you, and it does not. People like to give out awards, but most often it has more to do with the judges’ tastes and less to do with the quality of one’s work.

I really thought I had accomplished something huge, and in a way, I had, as writing a book is not an easy task by any means; however, other aspects of my life had not changed at all. I was still teaching high-school, and I kept hearing my own voice in my head telling me “real poets don’t teach high-school kids”.

I thought about moving to Toronto where I could be at the epicentre of the literary community. I haunted Toronto’s bars on weekends, drinking deeply into the night, and dreamed of the books I had yet to write while teaching all week. I began to resent high-school teaching and wondered aloud why I was not being offered a creative writing position at a university. Turns out those jobs are as rare as unicorns.

The other strange thing about winning an award is some fellow poets look at you with undisguised jealousy as they begin to introduce you “as a guy who has been on a lot of award lists.” As much as I enjoyed the attention of many who loved my first book, and the few publishers trying to steer me away from Nightwood Editions, I began to feel like maybe I didn’t deserve the adulation.

When writing my second book The Cold Panes of Surfaces, a much better book than my first one, in my opinion, I opined to my friend Autumn Getty that I was having trouble writing. I felt like my next book would have to be better than Bonfires. My good friend looked at me with pity and tenderness and said as gently as possible: “No one is waiting for another book by Chris Banks”.

It shocked me at the time but it was the best writing advice I have ever been given.

Soon the magic pixie dust of winning a poetry award wore off, and I was simply another poet with a second book that was not selling as well I would like. I wrote a third book Winter Cranes a few years later, most of the poems in syllabic verse, and again it was ignored by award lists. I began to drink more and eventually had to give it up.

It was a hard thing to realize the attention Bonfires received was a gift that perhaps I would never experience again, and I made my peace with that.

In the last six years, I have written more poems than at any other time of my life. I now look for the few appreciative readers who reach out to me to tell me how much they enjoy my poetry. These days I try to nurture my friendships with other poets, and I am genuinely happy for those poets who find their books thrust into the awards spotlight, especially first-time authors. It is a delight.

But awards do not make one happy. And they do not help you write another book. That comes from inside.

I have seen poets come and go, and the ones that stick around are those who make writing its own reward. They place the individual poem over the prize. When the next awards list is announced, you will find me doing what I always do. Chasing down a line or image or metaphor. The electric shock I get from doing that is better than anything in the world. Even an award.

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Siobhan Jamison Interview

EXCLUSIVE TO THE MIRAMICHI READER—Siobhan Jamison was born in Manchester to parents from Northern Ireland. She spent the 90’s living between Paris and Dublin but grew up in Toronto, where she currently resides and teaches at Seneca College. She is a graduate of The School of Creative Writing at The University of Toronto and is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Hull in the UK. Maternity and Other Corsets is her first book. Her work has been longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. She is writing its follow up Frozen Meat on Hooks, a novel in which the main character knows her sins but not why she can’t escape them.

Maternity and Other Corsets is the story of Maebh Murray as she chases the bohemian life through Europe with a French alcoholic painter she meets in Prague the summer after the Velvet Revolution. They move to Paris and have a child, and Maebh becomes breadwinner by day and breast feeder by night. They try life in Greece, Ireland, and Spain, where she ponders her artistic pretensions, bad marriage, and parenting and how difficult it is, in an atmosphere of western arrogance that is blind to its own contradictions, to make it all work.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in completing this novel?

Time, money and mental health.

When did you start writing Maternity and Other Corsets, and did you know it was a novel from the get-go?

What was to become chapter 2 was written in 2009.  I had only ever written poetry before, in bits and snatches, and hoped it would become a novella. My daughter was 16 and my son was 18 months. I was a single mother for the second time – convinced I was failing my children and lacking in confidence in every other way as well. I did not think I had enough pages in me for a novel.

Approximately what time period does the novel take place in? How hard was it or easy was it to dress the characters in the fashion from that time period?

The book takes place in the nineties and I’m a visual person so it wasn’t hard. Even though I was in Paris where fashion is less flippant but consistently elegant, I still remember the vintage grunge scene, Kurt Cobain’s slash blonde hair, sneakers with dress pants, Neneh Cherry in high tops and a mini-dress.

Did you know the first recorded song the Beatles ever did was ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’? (They sang back up). Also, does this song have any cultural/personal meaning to you?

Well, I thought it was a cheesy Irish song until the poor girl in Prague sang it to me. Most Irish songs are written in that vein and sure some of them do get the ol’ heart a longin’ for tings.

You describe Cabbagetown (a neighbourhood in downtown Toronto’s east side) with great acuity. Did you spend a lot of time in that area?

I spent my formative years in Cabbagetown in about 7 different houses that my parents renovated and flipped until the area became over-gentrified and kicked us out. But I’ve always liked the mix of characters and class you found there. You have to go west to Parkdale to get that vibe now which is where my parents live today.

Who is your least likeable character and was it easy or hard to write them?

I believe Elmore Leonard says to write the villain first and that’s the ‘battered and bruised’ sexy french painter husband in my book but he’s also the coolest; so yes – he was fun to write.

In an interview with the LA Review of Books in 2015, Heather O’Neill said, “Early on I noticed, during readings, that whenever I talked about something personal, the audience engaged in a different way. That’s what gave me the confidence to write about it.” How do you respond to this yourself?

Heather O’Neill’s story is gut-wrenching and Mary Karr speaks about how there’s no need to make things up when you’ve got such lived experience to draw from. And both of these writers did very much inspire me. Except that when I said I was writing about myself, I mostly got a blank kind of ‘but why’ look. And to be fair, when I started writing, I couldn’t articulate the darker aspects of the story. I played around with first and third-person voice but eventually decided to keep it a novel and settled on third so that I would not feel bogged down by truths I wanted to distance myself from and heighten or change wherever it felt best to.

Camilla Gibb was born in the UK and moved to Canada where she now writes and lives. Where were you born and when did you come to Canada and do you feel, as she does that a sense of preoccupation with the concept of “the outsider and questions of belongingness and identity.”?

Sure. I was born in Manchester but my parents are from Northern Ireland. Mum is Protestant and dad is Catholic so they left because of the troubles. I grew up in Toronto but did stay away for almost a decade to hammer ‘identity’ issues out. That’s a big part of the book. Coming back, Toronto had become the most culturally diverse city in the world and it’s easier now to be, as so many here, at ease with a sort of unsettled sense of home.

What are the two books you’d recommend to read during the quarantine?

I would say support a local author and if you are looking for something related to Mother’s Day and isolation Claudia Day’s Heartbreaker features both. Or if you like titles like me, order Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami from Flying Books. Oh and if you haven’t read Toni Morrison – please do.

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Bill Arnott’s Beat: An Emerita in New West

I was reading author tips from Elmore Leonard who stated emphatically, “Don’t start a story with weather!” So I won’t. However, it may interest you to know it was a warm day, spring blossoms blushing the city like a haiku/tanka festival.

I was meeting with powerhouse writer, publisher, Laureate Emerita Candice James in the literary city of New Westminster, BC’s former capital. Silver Bow Press is the company she runs, having taken over a four-title-a-year publisher and grown production to twenty new books a year – novels and poetry. Next year she anticipates bringing thirty select books to print. The list of submissions is extensive, the majority of it exceptional work from established authors.

Crossing town for our visit I felt an odd sense of nostalgia. James and I both made an unlikely professional transition to the arts – writing and music, from a background in finance. There aren’t many of us. Having done that for twenty-five years I knew Greater Vancouver as well as anyone – certainly better than most cabbies, the result of conducting countless house calls, office and coffee meetings everywhere in southwest BC. My father-in-law was a cartographer, designing and publishing street maps. And on multiple occasions relied on me to find new or missing addresses. This was before the existence of the google car with the pointy thing or CSIS and retailers knowing precisely where we are (and what we’re shopping for) at all times.

“Arriving at Silver Bow’s hub of operations I felt I was settling into the best bookstore/coffee shop ever – clean and bright, surrounded by stacks of crisp new volumes – a dizzying array of James’ own work, Silver Bow publications and signed copies of literary classics spanning forty years.”

But having cocooned for the past few years in Vancouver proper, I’d become insulated by readings and performance gigs within walking distance of home. It felt good to break from the downtown chrysalis, remembering the vast veins of creative bullion beyond my trickling creek and small prospector pan. There is indeed “gold in them there hills” or in this case, the well-treed town down by the Fraser.

Arriving at Silver Bow’s hub of operations I felt I was settling into the best bookstore/coffee shop ever – clean and bright, surrounded by stacks of crisp new volumes – a dizzying array of James’ own work, Silver Bow publications and signed copies of literary classics spanning forty years. It was as much a chance to catch up with Candice as anything, and to learn more about the New West lit scene, where she was Poet Laureate from 2010-2016, being involved with and/or running Poetic Justice and Poetry New West, Royal City Literary Arts Society and Poetry in the Park. Her successful reading series continues to draw a wealth of talent.

I returned for Poetic Justice, the weekly Sunday offering at the Heritage Grill, where American spoken word artist and activist Francisco Escamillo joined locals for a featured set. The fact this LA-based pro, known as the Bus Stop Prophet, wanted to be a part of the New West event indicates the extent of this thriving hub’s exposure and growing influence. I felt fortunate to be part of it, proud for my artist friends and the literary city-within-a-city we can all call our own.

First published by the Federation of BC Writers.

***

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of 2019 WIBA Finalist Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Dromomania. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s received awards for prose, poetry, songwriting, and been a featured performer at hundreds of literary festivals and mixed-media events internationally. His work is published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not trekking the globe with a small pack, weatherproof journal and often-dead camera phone, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and misbehaving. https://www.amazon.com/author/billarnott_aps

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Bill Arnott’s Gone Viking Online

The Miramichi Reader’s West Coast Editor, Bill Arnott is a published author and poet and a world traveller (although he’s isolating in Vancouver at the moment, he’s not going anywhere). Someplace he IS going, and you can join him is at Bill Arnott’s Gone Viking Online over at YouTube. You see, Bill was booked at libraries in and around Vancouver to promote his new book. Not to be deterred, he will be doing virtual appearances with quick readings from the travelogue Gone Viking.

Here’s the promo blurb: https://youtu.be/BqqHfvXtRDc

And the first reading (Episode #1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiC8R-6EE5A

There are 18 episodes (2 – 3 minutes each) and 7 Mini-Tours (video pics from Gone Viking travels).

Have fun!

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Matthew Heneghan Interview

Matthew Heneghan is the author of A Medic’s Mind, his memoirs of working as a medic with both the armed forces and in a civilian capacity. His account of dealing with PTSD, family, alcoholism and more are vividly and candidly explored in his debut publication. At the time of this writing, A Medic’s Mind is on “The Very Best!” Book Awards 2020 longlist for Best First Book (Non-Fiction).

Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

Sure! I moved to Canada with my family from the U.K. when I was just 5. I grew up in a small town within the interior B.C., a truly breathtaking place to spend one’s formative years.

After high school, I joined the army as a medic and served for six years. Upon completion of my time in service, I released and became a civilian paramedic. I worked mostly out west in Alberta. But I moved to Toronto in 2014 and worked in the GTA as a medic until 2017—I stopped working once given a diagnosis of PTSD.

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

My path to becoming a writer is a little atypical, really… I wouldn’t say that I was or have been influenced towards the direction of prose; it’s just something I have always done—whether on paper or in my mind.

That said, my favourite author of all time is none other than Charles Dickens! The way he writes and describes the worlds within his books are a literary splendour to feast upon. I love all his books, but A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol will always hold spots of adoration in my boyish heart.

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

Oh yes! A Christmas Carol. Every year at the start of November, without fail nor tire. I have an indefatigable infatuation for that story.

MR: Your book, A Medic’s Mind is one of the best first-person accounts of PTSD affliction and alcoholism recovery that I’ve read, and a lot of it has to do not only with its openness but also your writing skills. Just how difficult was it for you to write A Medic’s Mind?

Thank you for saying that, it’s very kind. The process of writing the book was extremely difficult and laborious. Parts of it were nice, the lighter parts. I spend much of my days saturated by the sombre ruminations of a less than pleasant past; being able to recall some of the more lighthearted and fun times of my life and career was a nice respite from the norm.

“The book and all that has followed has been a real trip. Book signings and radio interviews are all unique and fun for me.”

Being open and honest (even to a flaw) felt like the only to truly tell my story. None of us are perfect and sometimes it’s hard to admit that… but I did… on all 300 pages… I had to.

MR: Where has your book taken you since its publication? Did you foresee any of this?

The book and all that has followed has been a real trip. Book signings and radio interviews are all unique and fun for me. It is fascinating to me that people who come to the signings speak as if they know me and yet, we have never laid eyes on one another before… incredible stuff. Deeply humbling.
As for what I anticipated from the book release… nothing, really. This was kind of a selfish project that I used as a way of helping me put some things to rest, everything that has happened since release has been a pleasant surprise for me.

MR: You are also a podcaster. Tell us about it and the type of content you cover in each episode. What is its focus?

Yeah, I have a podcast by the same name: A Medic’s Mind. I suppose you could say the focus is just that: my mind. I generally read some of my blogs but I do so with an old-time radio-style flair. I have found that being able to control the pace, volume and content of my stories has given a sense of control over some of the more perfidious symptoms of my PTSD.

I would say that each episode is just an honest take on what I am feeling or experiencing during that moment or week.

MR: What are you working on now? Any plans for more writing?

Always more writing. I think I will write until the pen of life runs out… then I’ll just weave stories in the stars. I am hoping to publish another book (keeping that hush-hush for now).

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I enjoy going for late-night walks along the pier and being by the water. Something soothing about the vastness of it all. I generally live in my head most of the time, so I am still relearning what “fun” is. It’s work in progress.

Thanks, Matthew!

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Anita Kushwaha Interview

Anita Kushwaha is the author of Side by Side (2018, Inanna Publications), a book that I put on the 2020 long list for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Fiction. Ms. Kushwaha has a new novel coming out in late January entitled Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughtersto be published by HarperCollins), which I am looking forward to reading. Before she gets too busy promoting that book, I wanted to interview her for The Miramichi Reader.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc. 

I was born in Ottawa and raised the nearby town of Aylmer, Quebec. While I’ve written since I was a child and always wanted to be a writer, I also have a great love for research and the environment, which led me to study ecology in undergrad and human geography in graduate school. My life before writing was based in academia, teaching, working as a research assistant, and being out in the field. I loved that portion of my career, which even brought me to the eastern Arctic, but once I had completed my doctorate, I felt ready to move on. I decided to commit myself to writing, which had been a life-long dream, studying through the Humber School for Writers under the mentorship of Shyam Selvadurai. When my novella, The Escape Artist, was published by Quattro Books, things started taking off for me and gave me the confidence to keep pursuing my writing aspirations.

“I grew up in a small town in Quebec, raised on books that didn’t reflect me or the experiences of my immigrant family.”


Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer. 

I read widely across genres, and many authors have influenced me, but I’ll mention a few key ones here. I grew up in a small town in Quebec, raised on books that didn’t reflect me or the experiences of my immigrant family. The consequence was that it limited what I thought I could be, and which stories mattered. When I was nineteen or twenty, I read “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri. That collection of short stories changed everything for me. I’ll never forget the nuances of South Asian family life in those stories, some of which brought tears to my eyes because finally, it was there, it was seen. I started to believe that not only could I write from my perspective, but there might also be someone out there willing to read what I had to offer, someone who might need the stories as much as I did back then and always will. I suppose that’s why writing for me is an act of place-making. You can carve out a place for yourself with a book. You can inject your voice where it was previously dismissed, minimized, ignored.
I call Margaret Atwood my High Priestess – reading her has always felt like taking a masterclass to me. When I read her work, I need to have a notebook beside me, because her creativity sparks creativity in me. She also reminds me to write bravely.
I’ve recently completed Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet and was blown away by her mastery at weaving together the personal and political. Her work has deeply influenced my current WIP.
I also grew up reading a lot of Victorian femlit and love the Brontes. Hence the nod to Jane Eyre in Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters.

Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

I love Wuthering Heights and go back to it every now and then, falling under the same moody spell. (It’s no wonder I wrote a tragic love story!) I’m in awe of The Blind Assassin [by Margaret Atwood]. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the LOTR trilogy, which I read as a teenager, a Christmas gift from my father. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, as well as her poetry (see: Mirror), are a part of my heart.

“After losing a loved one to suicide, writing about the upheaval [in Side bySide] was part of how I processed and healed.”

Your first full-length book, Side by Side was an impressive debut novel, and one I longlisted for Fiction in 2020. In my review, I commented that “Side by Side is so well crafted that the reader distinctly perceives Kavita’s horror every step of the way.”  I would be interested to know just how you managed to do this. (I hope it’s not too personal of a question!)

Thank you again for your kind words and for including Side by Side in your long list, I’m honoured! It will always be the book of my heart. Not the book I ever thought I would write, but nevertheless, the book that needed to be written. After losing a loved one to suicide, writing about the upheaval was part of how I processed and healed. As a survivor, I felt strongly that I needed to do something, so my loved one’s life wouldn’t be in vain. The book was my way of combatting stigma and shedding light on the ripple effects of suicide, this loss like no other, while also exploring issues through a cultural lens, which is often overlooked yet adds further complexity to grief. I mentioned earlier about how a book can be a place. That’s what I hoped Side by Side would be for others whose lives had been touched by mental illness and loss by suicide. I wrote it with them in mind, since survivors tend to be marginalized and their experiences misunderstood. It’s remarkable how many readers have reached out to me and shared their stories after reading the book. Connection and validation are also what I hoped the book would inspire.

Now let’s move on to your newest novel, Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters, coming January 2020. Can you tell us a little about it? How is it different (or similar) to Side by Side

The book is a mother-daughter story told in alternating timelines, about a mother and daughter who never meet. The story begins with the revelation that Asha’s parents have kept her adoption a secret her entire life. But why? As she is thrust on a journey of self-discovery, the reader is introduced to Mala, and the choices and secrets which end up shaping both their lives.
SLOMAD is similar to Side by Side, and my work in general, in how it places the lives of South Asian women at its centre, and the social and cultural pressures they face. My hope is that the book sparks conversations around choice, the importance of following one’s inner truth, and women’s mental health.

If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

I never got to meet my grandparents. I would love to sit with each of them and document their life histories.

What are you working on now? 

My current WIP is with my agent at the moment, actually! It’s a sisterhood story, more bitter than sweet, inspired by The Blind Assassin and the Neapolitan novels. Lots of complex family dynamics and secrets, also in keeping in with my interest in exploring issues of identity, belonging, immigrant experiences, and the lives of South Asian women. I was fortunate to receive a Literary Creations grant from the Ontario Arts Council to support this project.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I spend so much time sitting and thinking, my body craves movement. I love running, cycling, yoga, and time outdoors. Reading, napping, and eating are also favourite pastimes.

Thanks, Anita!

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Laura Churchill Duke Interview

Laura Churchill Duke is the author of Two Crows Sorrow (2019, Moose House Publications) the true story of a grisly murder that took place in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in 1904. It is currently on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Non-Fiction. I wanted to know more about Ms. Churchill Duke and the research that went into telling Theresa McAuley Robinson’s story.

Miramichi Reader: Laura, tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

I grew up in the Annapolis Valley, attended Acadia University studying organizational psychology. It was while writing my honours thesis that my supervisor picked up on my love of writing and worked a lot with me to further develop my skills – and worked hard to get me to stop using the passive voice!

After graduation, I lived in Japan for three years, teaching English at the base of Mt. Fuji. I travelled the world, and eventually returned to the Valley where I took an advanced diploma in public relations from the community college, and then returned to Acadia, working for my previous honours thesis supervisor, as project manager for his psychology research centre.

When my son was born 13 years ago, I decided not to return to the traditional workforce, and instead carved a niche market for myself. I created the website and blog, Valley Family Fun (www.valleyfamilyfun.ca) as a way of sharing ideas and information with families so they can spend more time having fun together. Our family documents our travels and local adventures, encouraging others to do the same. I have grown to have tens of thousands of followers, all looking for more family fun.

I currently work as a freelance journalist for Saltwire Network with my stories reaching across Atlantic Canada. I am the CBC radio Information Morning community contact for the town of Kentville. I work as the communications coordinator for Campaign for Kids, raising funds for kids in financial need in the local area. As part of this, I organize and run a yearly Burger Wars campaign for the month of April with over 40 participating restaurants in the Valley. We run a strong social media campaign for this and people love to go online to watch me eat burgers on Facebook live!

I am president of my sons’ school PTA and spend as much time volunteering at the school as possible. I know this period of time is so short, so I try to pack as much as possible in with them!

I also run a home organization business on the side with two friends called Your Last Resort (www.YourLastResort.ca) and we have seen first-hand the powerful impact that cleaning one’s home has on one’s life.

I have two sons: Daniel – 13, Thomas 11. My husband is a history prof at Acadia, and we have 5 pets, which are rescue animals (a Shepsky dog and 4 degus).

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

I have always loved writing. In grade 2, I was awarded a writing prize, and in Grade 6, my teacher, Mr. Pulsifer wrote on one of my detective stories “keep writing, because you might make money at this someday!” Then, my thesis supervisor, Dr. Michael Leiter, really took me under his wing, giving me lots of writing opportunities, both academic and media-related.

I have always been obsessed with true crime shows and books. Before writing Two Crows Sorrow, I read a lot of local historical murder books. I really love the books by Debra Komar and devoured as many of her books as possible.

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

Horn of the Lamb by Robert Sedlack is probably one of my favourite books. It’s by a Canadian author and is about a simple man who has an extraordinary impact on the people around him.

I also love books by Liane Moriarty, an Australian writer, who I think is definitely writing to my age cohort! What Alice Forgot is a powerful book, that makes us look at our lives and think about how we got where we are today, and to appreciate that journey and our beginnings.

MR: Let’s discuss your fascinating creative non-fiction book, Two Crows Sorrow, which I believe is your first book. How did it come about? Where did the idea of telling Theresa McAuley Robinson’s story start?

In 2012, I was commissioned to write the scripts for Valley Ghost Walks (www.valleyghostwalks.com). We were starting a new walk series in Kentville and needed the scripts. I researched Kentville’s history to write these dramatic historical monologues, and in the process, came across the story of the murder of Theresa McAuley Robinson. Because the trial for this murder took place in Kentville, it came across my radar. I began researching her story, and it stuck with me.

I kept thinking that this would make a great novel…. If I wrote fiction. However, I am a journalist and a reporter. I don’t write creative stories!

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Then, a few years later, I went to a conference where the keynote speaker asked, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” The answer came to me immediately. I would write this book. So, I decided to step outside my comfort box and try to put her story to paper.

“I am overwhelmed at how well this novel has been received.”

It was hard flipping between writing an article and writing a story and had lots of friends who helped read earlier drafts, indicating where it read like an article, where I had included too much research, and where I needed to work further.

MR: How has the book been received?

I am overwhelmed at how well this novel has been received. I have asked people from afar who have read the book if it matters that they are not from the Valley. They say the story translates across borders and is not limited to Nova Scotia. This is evident in the wide-spread reception of the book.

I have had readers write to me from across Canada – in Edmonton, Vancouver and Ontario.

Because I have lived abroad and have friends overseas, the book has gone to England, Ireland, Japan and Australia – that I know of!

Recently, I received a phone call from a woman in Cleveland Ohio, who told me how much she loved the book and how well it was selling in Barnes & Noble, Walmart there. It’s also being placed in all branches of the Cleveland Public Libraries!

MR: In researching and writing your novel, you likely have had a few outstanding experiences, either with people or places. Anything stands out for you? Something especially memorable?

Before writing, I did so much research – months and months of it. I spent so much time in the archives reading trial transcripts, newspaper articles, the victim’s personal letters, etc. I interviewed so many people to find the ins and outs of the time period and to know what everything meant. Luckily, one of my best friend’s friend was living with her at the time, and she was a former forensic crime scene investigator from the UK. We would go for lunch and talk about dead bodies, pugilistic poses, murder scenes and the likes over dinner. I can just imagine what people overhearing our conversations, thought!

Theresa was also a community columnist in the local paper, bringing the local news from Burlington, NS, much like I do today. It was wonderful to read her words in the paper, and she had a gift for description.

I went down so many rabbit holes in my research, wanting to know everything about everyone –  I researched every jury member, every family member, wanting to know everything about everything.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

I really believe I already have. Theresa’s story stuck with me until I wrote it. To me, this was not about writing a book, but telling her story. I would write something again if it equally compelled me. I’m sure it would have an element of crime in it, too, though!

MR: What are you working on now?

I am poking into a few other local crime stories to see if there is enough of a story there. The hard part is finding time to do this, as I have to fit this in around everything else that I actually get paid to write!

So, mostly, I am writing Christmas lists, newspaper articles 😊

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Our family loves to travel. Two years ago our family lived in Wales for 6 months. We are planning to go away in 2020 for a month to revisit Japan, so I can show my family where I used to live, and why I love the country.

I love to hike and explore new trails – and then blog about them; I love to bake, read, have a glass of Moscato with my friends, and spend time with my immediate and extended family, all of whom live within 20 minutes!

Thanks Laura!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Wayne Curtis Receives the New Brunswick Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Literary Arts

At a recent Words on Water event at the Newcastle Public Library, a series of engraved wood plaques crafted by local artist Gloria Savoie was unveiled. They are to mark the “indoor” portion of the Miramichi Literary Trail. In attendance were the authors Sandra Bunting, Chuck Bowie, Doug Underhill, and Wayne Curtis. All read from their works and there was much conversation afterword. The biggest buzz revolved around the news that Wayne Curtis recently received the New Brunswick Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for the Literary Arts. In receiving this acknowledgement for his lifetime of contributions, he joins such past winners as M. Travis Lane, Beth Powning, and the late Raymond Fraser, another Miramichi native.

I was able to speak with Wayne at length both in person at the event and later, via email from his Fredericton home regarding this recognition. “I was delighted to get the news. Awards like this give legitimacy to what I am trying to achieve. Plus It is good to be in the company of writers like Lane and Fraser,” he stated.

Author Doug Underhill from the podium paid tribute to the high degree of detail in Wayne’s writing. In speaking with him afterward, I mentioned this, for I was in total agreement with Mr. Underhill. Wayne responded: “I am a sentimentalist by nature so I tend to dig deep into the grassroots of the matter, get down to the heart feelings. I feel more so I suffer more.” However, he mentioned that he tends to get too sentimental the more he reflects back on all that he has seen and experienced: “Sentiment can be both a virtue and a curse in that regard. I grieve about things that may go unnoticed to other people; things like the loss of the bat, the demise of our Canadian songbirds or the plight of the Atlantic Salmon.”  Endowed with an amazing memory, it seems nothing escapes his notice, particularly in the New Brunswick outdoors, yet one that has changed a lot since his younger days spent growing up in the nearby rural community of Keenan. “I grieve about the changing of the seasons, both literal and metaphoric.”

I also asked Mr. Curtis if we could expect anything new from him: “I have a book coming out in the spring. It is called Winter Road, a collection of short stories that lead us from spring to winter, youth to old age. It should be around in April. I am now working on my 20th book, possibly my last, as I am getting on in years.” Mr. Curtis excels in the short story genre; Alistair MacLeod described him as “a master of short fiction,” To date, he has written seven collections of short stories, eight books of non-fiction (essays), three novels and a book of poetry.

The Awards were presented to the laureates by the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick at a gala held at the Lieutenant-Governor’s residence on 4 November 2019. I asked Mr. Curtis if he was going to buy a new suit for the occasion. He wryly responded: “I do not need a new suit. I have a good black suit that is in style and a black tie.”

It sounds like he’s all set!

The Lieutenant-Governor’s Awards for High Achievement in the Arts recognize and celebrate outstanding New Brunswick artists and writers who have distinguished themselves by the excellence of their achievements and their contribution to the arts in the province.

For more information, visit: http://artsnb.ca/site/en/awards/

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Top Ten Posts for 2019

Since it is almost the end of 2019 (and another decade slips away), I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the most popular posts here at The Miramichi Reader for 2019. While many 2018 posts continued to be popular in 2019, the following ten posts were all posted in 2019. Included are author interviews, short story collections, poetry, fiction and nonfiction selections which just happen to cover all the major categories here. The posts are arranged by most views, in descending order.

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Lisa de Nikolits Interview

Lisa de Nikolits is the author of 2016’s The Nearly Girl, 2015’s Through the Cracks She Fell, and the forthcoming No Fury Like That, (September 15th release date) all published by Inanna Publications of Toronto. As you will discover, Lisa is one busy woman; she not only writes, she designs magazines, blogs and maintains her own websites and social media sites, loves to explore abandoned buildings, has produced a self-help cookbook and claims she is a power reader. Just prior to the official launch of No Fury Like That, she took some time to candidly answer some questions at length.

Miramichi Reader: Lisa, please tell us a little about your background, education, employment, etc.
When I was young, I thought life was an endless summer. In other words, I assumed I would spend my life living off the generosity of my father, riding my horse and happily daydreaming under the clear blue African sky! It came as quite a shock when I realized that I would, in fact, have to work for a living – what an inconvenience! I received my Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg which didn’t equip me for much in practical terms. I got a job as a feature writer on the now-defunct Homes & Gardens magazine but I found writing terribly stressful and I was hugely relieved when the publisher asked me to do a few layouts while he looked for a new designer – the company had quite the revolving door!
I hadn’t studied design but the publisher took a few minutes to show me the ropes and off he went, leaving me alone in the art studio.

It took me about two seconds to fall in love with design. It was so much fun! Way less stressful than writing!  I persuaded the publisher to move me to design full time and hire a new writer instead and ever since then, I’ve been a magazine designer and art director. I’ve worked on marie claire (South Africa), Vogue Living, Vogue Australia, Cosmopolitan, Canadian Living and a bunch of top-notch magazines and I consider myself extremely blessed to have had a very successful career. Sadly, however, I think the magazine industry is dying and, contrary to the predictions, digital magazines aren’t hugely successful, so it might be time for me to branch out into a new area. I wish I was one of those authors who can live off their earnings but since very few actually do, it’s not a realistic expectation! I will always love designing and it comes in handy for the author side of my life as I design my book covers and all my social media artwork and I design my own websites.

“I wish I was one of those authors who can live off their earnings but since very few actually do, it’s not a realistic expectation!”

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
My high school English teacher, Mrs Nix, was a very positive influence in my life. I was about fourteen and she was very encouraging. I remember being convinced that I was the reincarnation of one of the Brontë sisters – it swung between Emily and Charlotte.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn was one of the first books that made me determined to be a writer. I felt like I was Francie Nolan, and I wanted to write a book and create that same experience for a reader – make a person feel like there was a book written about her, just for her. And of course, I loved Anne of Green Gables! I somehow always read books with my future writerly self in mind – the question was always, could I write a book like this?

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”
― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Drive ‘er, Lisa!

MR: Tell us how you spent your summer. You appear to have a love for exploring, judging by your Instagram posts!
To be honest, it’s been a very stressful summer! A bunch of freelance graphic design jobs fell through and the industry has been alarmingly quiet. But I utilized the time to the maximum; I wrote a series of blog posts for Open Book Toronto, I called my series Sixteen Shades of Noir and I’ve had great fun with it! I am Writer in Residence for Open Book in November and contributing authors have commented (with some surprise!) that I work very far in advance! This is true because I already have my writing goals in place for November so I need the blog posts to be done! I work according to a series of self-imposed, very rigorous deadlines and I am very strict with myself!

I also penned the first draft of a new crime novel (I tried to be strictly genre about this one and I currently have a good friend and ace writer reading it and we will see what she says, whether I was successful or not!)

I wrote a short story which I have submitted to an anthology and I worked on a novel that I submitted to Inanna, The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution. I am hoping it will be my 2019 book with them.

With regard to my social media pics, yes, I do like to explore interesting places! I’m an urban explorer and I love nothing more than abandoned old places – I find a lot of inspiration there. Sometimes I freak myself out when I hear odd noises behind the walls and I’m generally careful about not going up water-damaged staircases or down into dark basements but the whole thing gives me a good adrenalin rush! There’s something about the energy of abandoned places that fascinates me and it’s very intriguing to imagine the people who lived there. I often find pill bottles and I Google what the prescriptions were for but so far, there’s been nothing nefarious!

MR: You seem to be always on the go, Lisa. Other than writing, what else occupies your time?
I have a few websites and other projects on the go. One is The Minerva Reader, a site which I update weekly and I explain the origins of that site in a question below. I have another project, Bake Your Way to Happiness, a self-help cookbook. I got the idea for it from my forthcoming 2018 novel, Rotten Peaches. In the book, one of my protagonists writes a Bake Your Way series: Bake Your Way to Happiness, Bake Your Way to Success, Bake Your Way to a Happy Family and Bake Your Way to a Great Love Life!

I thought this was a marvellous idea and, as I was working at Canadian Living at the time, I approached one of the food editors, Gilean Watts, and I asked her if she was keen to come on board. She told me that she had in fact baked her way out of depression while she was at university, using her Gran’s recipes and that she’d love to be involved.

I contacted a well-known reputable therapist, Marilyn Riesz, and she also thought the idea was a great one and the three of us collaborated to create Bake Your Way to Happiness. I designed and produced the book and it turned out very nicely! I will admit that it did not fare as well as the fictional item in Rotten Peaches, but I am still extremely proud of it. I maintain the website for that as well as the online magazine associated with it on Issuu.

I do a fair amount of promotion for my books in terms of library readings, blog posts, blog tours, and maintaining my own website and of course, there’s the ever-present garden of social media that seeks constant attention! I’m on Facebook with a personal page and an author’s page, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and a few videos on YouTube. Of all the forums, Instagram is my favourite.

MR: Have you ever self-published or considered it at any time in your writing career? Do you have some sage advice for aspiring authors?
I am a pioneer of self-publishing! I actually self-published a book by mistake in 1995, I thought I was working with a reputable publishing house. I know – if it’s a reputable place, you don’t pay them anything, they pay you but I was naïve and trusting and I thought these guys were the real deal. They called themselves Minerva and they riffed off an excellent small UK press also called Minerva. Dubious Minerva was later sued and forced to shut down. The only good thing about the experience was that the book, Single Girls Go Mad Sooner, is unavailable, which is a good thing since it was a terribly bad book!

“I urge writers to one thing a day for their writing. That’s my rule. Do one thing a day.”

So that was my experience with self-publishing! I started a site called The Minerva Reader as a way of putting the awful Minerva ghost to rest – I don’t forgive myself easily for my mistakes – I thought if I could turn the experience into a positive one, that that would make up for things. My site, The Minerva Reader, features a weekly post of a book I consider to be an ‘unsung hero’ or a treasure read that readers might have missed. As I’m sure you know, there is no shortage of those!

I don’t know if I would self-publish a work of fiction. At this point, I don’t think I would because I trust my publisher and editor, Luciana Ricciutelli, and I would feel quite lost without her.

As for advice for aspiring authors, yes, I do have one piece of advice, and I hope it’s sage! I urge writers to one thing a day for their writing. That’s my rule. Do one thing a day. Write a line, or a paragraph, or plot an idea or edit a piece. One thing a day, every day. And then, work it harder. Always work it harder.

MR: Your 2016 book The Nearly Girl was very well-received. Please relate some of the places this book took you while promoting it.
Thank you! Readers have responded very well to the book which is wonderful! Of all the books I’ve written to date, it’s one of my favourites! Although Luciana says I always say that about my most recent book and she’s right.

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My husband joined me on my east coast book tour which was great and because he did, we got to explore a lot of places I wouldn’t have got to by myself. Cape Spear was one of them. Then there was Dildo in Newfoundland – a truly beautiful little town. We also had the privilege of staying at the National Water Centre in Saint John’s New Brunswick, a retreat for artists and writers. I contributed a Watermark piece for them, in thanks. The Bay of Fundy is amazing, I love Halifax and then of course, there is Prince Edward Island which just took my breath away! I lay down on that red earth with my arms spread wide – a road angel instead of a snow angel – oh, what a place!

MR: You’ve published a book a year for the past 5 (and soon to be 6) years. That’s quite a pace.
That’s true, it is quite a pace! It was a goal I set myself sometime back, around the time that West of Wawa was published and I emailed Luciana and I said ‘Let’s do a book a year!’ and she was game for the idea. My reasoning behind it was that it would be a good way to keep myself writing and it would push me to improve. I find that you can take a novel to a certain place and then it’s done – it’s as good as it’s going to get. And then you need to write a new, and better novel. I do believe that each of my novels is an improvement on the preceding one, in terms of writing style. I love all my books because they were the very best I could deliver at that point and while I see and acknowledge their flaws, I’m still delighted they are in the world.

MR: If they were to make a movie based on The Nearly Girl who do you envision playing the main characters?
There is only one actor for Dr. Carroll and that’s Paul Giamatti! I see Woody Harrelson as Henry (but he’d have to have a really long shaggy wig!), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark from Game of Thrones) would be Amelia, Helen Mirren would be Ethel and Madonna would be Meagan!

MR: Have you ever considered writing a sequel to any of your books?

Yes! To The Witchdoctor’s Bones – and I’m working on a new one which I initially titled Jumping Bad but now I’ve changed the name to The Weegee Doll and it might well be good for a sequel! People have asked for sequels for West of Wawa and Between The Cracks She Fell but there’s nothing there!

MR:  Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner. The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (George Cockcroft). Poems by T.S. Eliot (best read aloud!). I keep meaning to reread Dawn Promislow’s Jewels and Other Stories (Tsar) as she is a very fine writer and I love her style. I tend to read books that are relevant to the book I am writing. I read incredibly quickly which is very handy, and I have piles of books all over the house. Fortunately, my husband is a huge book lover too, so he never objects!

MR: If you could write a biography of (or spend an evening with) any person, living or dead, who would that be?
Wow, that’s a tough question! Mordecai Richler (because I think he would be so hugely entertaining and crazy and larger than life), Emily Carr (for being so determined and unique. She never lost faith in her art, even when times were tough), Nelson Mandela (for keeping his faith in mankind, despite everything that happened to him. He never became bitter which is incredible).

MR: Your latest book, No Fury Like That is about to be released. Can we expect another novel from you in 2018?
Yes, Rotten Peaches!

In Rotten Peaches, four lives intersect and implode. Who will be left standing?

Leone is a wife, mother bio chemist and cosmetician. She wants JayRay.
JayRay is a drop dead gorgeous conman and purveyor of home security devices. He wants money.
Berenice is a sharpshooter, psychologist, baker and author of self-help books. She wants her lover, Dirk, to have sex with her.
But Dirk is a powerful and conflicted Afrikaner. He wants the return of righteous morality as ordained by Church and State.

Blackmail, poison, murder, marriage, ethics, psychology and homespun morality are all called into play in this noir novel about love and revenge. But the single underlying theme is that of parentage. With the focus on fatherhood in particular, are we ultimately defined by the man we call father?

MR: You mentioned earlier that The Nearly Girl tour brought you to the East Coast. What else has brought you east?
Oh yes! I love the east coast. The first trip I took was the basis for the novel West of Wawa. I’ve been to Moncton, Amherst, Halifax, Dartmouth, Saint John’s, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island.  I also visited Iqaluit in Nunavut which I loved and I travelled up to Pangnirtung to try to get to the Arctic Circle (sadly, it’s actually 50km south of it!) and I mention this trip because I thought Nunavut was on the east coast of Canada!

I admit to being horribly geographically challenged – for example, when I came to Canada, I thought Toronto was where Vancouver is, and that New York was Seattle. I know… I had, in fact, studied the maps but there you go, the wrong notions stuck with me. My husband has commented that The Nearly Girl is my most autobiographical book to date and that a good example of my nearlyness in action!

Speaking of The Nearly Girl tour, I even got to Cape Spear! It was a fantastic day, so windy and rainy that it was hard to even stand without being blown over and I felt as I was being blessed by the elements – a baptism of sorts!

I love the east coast. In 2003 or thereabouts, I was part of the redesign team on The Amherst Daily News which is now the weekly Amherst News and that was a great experience. I also worked in Halifax shortly after Hurricane Juan hit – we had to put out a commemorative magazine in four days, documenting the aftermath of the hurricane. Putting that magazine together in that short a time was a hurricane of its own! For which I received corporate tickets to a Leafs game!

I would definitely prefer to settle on the east coast as opposed to the west. There’s something so ancient and wise and kind about the east coast, whereas the west coast seems too cool for school, so self-conscious and a bit pretentious. Alternatively, I could live in Kamloops! I did a vast cross-Canada trip (I did the actual journey documented in of West of Wawa but, for the purposes of that oft-asked question, I am not Benny!) and I visited pretty much every place except for Victoria. I also loved Churchill, Manitoba.

I’d be hard-pressed to say which part of the east coast I love the most… it’s all wonderful! And the people are just lovely, present company most certainly included!

MR: Thanks Lisa! Finally, what do you like to do when you are not writing?
I play the classical guitar (not very well!) and I love it. I’ve been taking lessons for the past twelve years, so I really should be a lot better than I am! I like to take naps with my cat. I love reading, and going for walks. I love travelling. I’ve been to so many countries but there are still dozens of cities I would love to visit. I enjoy taking photographs. I love binge-watching Netflix until the early hours of the morning. I like to eat birthday cake for breakfast and I still like to daydream, to just look out at the world and not think about too much of anything!

Thank you very much for having me as a guest today, and thank you for all your support of my work, it is greatly appreciated.

This article has been Digiproved © 2017-2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved